Wednesday, June 1, 2016

So Many Breweries, So Little Time: Portland Day 5

Recently my wife (Sarajo) and I took a week's vacation to the Beer Mecca that is Portland, Oregon.  While we did try out a nearly overwhelming number of breweries, we also took some side trips and ate at a wonderful plethora of places.  On our third day in, two of our friends (Kathleen and Shea) met up with us from DC and joined in the fun.  I'm going to blog about the trip in some detail, mostly to immortalize it in the written word, but consider it a starting point for your own Portland area trip!  Feel free to shoot me any questions or clarifications if you like.

Day 5

We started out our fifth day with a good base of a sturdy breakfast at the wonderfully rural looking and hipster friendly Pine State Biscuits.  Yummy biscuits and gravy!  I recommend this place but there was a sizable line and not a lot of seating so get there early!

The view from line at Pine State...

The Commons Brewery

Stomachs full of rapidly expanding biscuits, our next stop was  The Commons Brewery, which had been suggested by several of my friends as a great newcomer to the Portland brewery scene.  Starting as a 1 barrel nano system, they have already upgraded first to a 7 bbl, and now again to a 15 bbl brewhouse.  Rapid growth can be bad, but in the case of Commons, I think it's a good thing indeed.  We were nearly the first ones there, coming in just as they opened (I'd heard the place gets crowded and wanted to beat the rush).  We ordered samplers to taste through all 12 beers they had on tap.  Watching our server rinse off the sticky overflow from the outside of the sampler glasses with a little condiment bottle made me realize that these guys really care about their beers and how they are presented.

Shall we talk about the beers?  Out of 12 beers the lowest score I gave was a 3.5 for the Pils (just not quite perfect, but still drinkable).  The rest were all 3.75-4 beers, which for me is well above average.  Most were Belgian in character with a few different takes on saisons and a French Biere de Garde that was very tasty.  My favorite was the Myrtle--sour, tart, with a spritzy hoppy finish (4.5).  This was followed by The Croze--lemony and refreshing (4.25).  I think our whole group was pretty happy with our time here!  Well worth a visit to Commons.

Cascade Barrel House

From Commons, it was just a short walk on a sunny day to Cascade Barrel House.  This is Cascade's barrel aging (and serving) facility and is known throughout the land as one of the top American producers of sour beers.  I've written up Cascade in the past so I'm not going too much into it today--but this brewery was on our must-revisit list for sure!  Between the four of us we tried all the available sour beers and the special Derby Day concoction that tasted like a mint julep.  I think the fan favorite was the Framblanc--a tart raspberry sour made with white raspberry.  I can't say enough good things about this brewery and it is a must-do for any beer enthusiast in the Portland area.  Pretty much every beer I tasted got at least a 4 or higher score.

Culmination Brewing

Not far away was another young brewery that we had discovered on our tasting travels: Culmination Brewing.  This was located in a small, but newer strip-mall.  We had tried their triple IPA Ferret The Younger at the McMenamins 23rd Ave Bottle Shop earlier in our visit and that made me jump this brewery up on our list--unfortunately they didn't have it on tap at the brewery.  Sad Face.  Culmination had a nice vibe once inside the taproom, but it was getting a little warm for comfort at this time of day.  They had a good looking food list and a variety beers to try.  Pretty much all of the beers were above average (average score for me was 3.5) with my favorite being the Euphoric IPA and the Euphoric Brett IPA.  The most unusual beer was made with tea with mango and passion fruit--none of us were quite sure what to make of this one, but it stood out from the crowd of other beers on the trip.  While this wasn't our favorite brewery of the trip, they certainly have potential for greater things over the coming years.

Stung Fermented

While at Culmination, Shea (I think) noticed a small sign for Stung Fermented across the parking lot.  Curious, we wandered over and had one of the better surprise experiences of the trip.  This is a very new meadery (for those not in the know, mead is a fermented honey beverage) specializing in dry, carbonated meads.  Most of the commercial and homebrewed meads I've had have been on the sweeter side, and most often are served more as desert wines, so I was excited to try these.  The issue with dry meads is that the sweet honey character is often lost and the result can be less than exciting.

We were greeted by Patrick Lawrence, the assistant mead maker, who was manning the shopfront.  He walked us through the line-up with tastings of their three core Worker Series meads (lower alcohol champagne-like meads).  I'm going into more depth on these!

Trinity: The flagship--mild, easy to drink, would go great with foods as a palate cleanser.  3.75
Mosaic: This one is actually made with Mosaic hops and had an amazing hoppy, blackberry aroma.  4
Standard: Ginger on the nose.  Carbonation strong.  Mild honey character.  3.75
Farmhouse: Funky aroma with a very dry finish.  Not my favorite.  3
Caffe: Crazy coffee and vanilla on the aroma and flavor.  A strange and intriguing mix.  4
Gose: A take on the coriander and salted tart beer style of the same name.  Odd for a mead, but interesting.  A bit too much coriander in it, but the salt adds some different character to the drink. 3.5

We had accumulated another couple on the tasting tour by now and Patrick gave us an impromptu tour of the meadery as well.  These guys are totally into the science behind the process and it shows in their finished product, as well as the fact that all their fermentors are all named after scientists!  We got to try two special meads directly from the fermentors and these were the stand-out hits of the visit--these were bigger, badder meads and the first of their Queen Series.  One was made with local blackberry honey and had a nice tart finish that made me smile (4.25).  The other was made with high desert honey and had an incredible earthy flavor redolent of sage and mesquite wood (4.5).  We really liked this place and I think they'll be going places soon.

Coalition Brewing

Moving on from Stung, we headed for yet another brewery!  Coalition Brewing was not far from where we planned to have dinner, so we walked there prior.  By this time we were a little beered-out but the meads had reinvigorated us for one more stop.  OK, mostly I pushed for one more stop and my group grudgingly allowed it.  Coalition is located in what looks like an old warehouse.  This is a 10 barrel brewery set into a very tiny and narrow space that frankly looks way too small to hold all that equipment!  This is very much a production spot, but near the entrance they have a set of taps set up for selling pints and samples as well, and some outside seating.  Here I tried: Space Fruit IPA (3.75), Dropping Science DIPA--love the name and the beer (4), and Bosc Mode a brett beer made with local Bosc pears (4).  This is not the most picturesque of breweries, but he beers were solid for sure.  I'm also pleased that they routinely get together with homebrewers to make taproom only beers.

In our travels we stopped at Yarnia to fulfill Kathleen's need for yarn.  Yes, Yarnia

Laurelhurst Market

For dinner, not far from Coalition, we headed for Laurelhurst Market.  During the day this place is a deli and fancy butcher shop, but at night it turns into a high-end steak-oriented restaurant.  We had a wonderful dinner with great service and various outrageous cocktails.  Not our cheapest meal for sure, but worth the trip.

Have you noticed how my write-ups get shorter as the day of indulgence goes on?

McMenamins Honors Bar

As mentioned in previous entries, our hotel (McMenamins Kennedy School) has a total of 5 bars in the building, and we had to catch them all!  Once safe at home and no longer requiring Sj to drive, we had to catch her up on the cocktail action.  We started with the Honors Bar.  Located in the old principal's office, this is a very small (fits 8-10 people) spot with a couple beers on tap and plenty of cocktails.  In winter months they run the world's tiniest wood stove to warm the place up.  By this point I was getting tired and just had a Jam Session IPA from the brewery--hurray for session IPA's!  We ended up downstairs in the Boiler Room Bar again and played a wacky card game that Shea and Kathleen taught us.  We got our drank on this day!

Running Tally:
Breweries: 16
Distilleries: 2
Pubs/Bars: 8
Meaderies: 1

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